Former leader of the Liberal Democrats and former Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom as part of a coalition deal with the Conservative Party, Sir Nicholas William Peter Clegg (born 7 January 1967) was the man who led the Liberal Democratic Party to unimagined heights in 2010 ... and to unprecedented lows in 2015.
He was propelled into the limelight of British politics leading up to the 2010 general election thanks to a strong performance in the three prime ministerial debates against Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Conservative Opposition Leader David Cameron. He became something of an Ensemble Dark Horse thanks to his previous relative obscurity; in a 2008 interview, Cameron had actually said Clegg was his favourite political joke, which became retroactively Hilarious in Hindsight. Media often refer to Clegg's popularity following the first debate of 2010 as 'Cleggmania'. Although the Liberal Democrats failed to break through as many predicted — they actually lost a net five seats in the election despite a 1% increase in their share of the popular vote overall — the resulting hung parliament, the first one since February 1974, put Nick Clegg in a nevertheless-unprecedented Kingmaker Scenario. In a coalition with the Tories, the two parties made up a majority of seats — however neither Labour nor the Lib Dems secured enough seats for a Lib–Lab coalition that held a majority without involving the Welsh and Scottish nationalist and Northern Irish parties.
For obvious reasons, he lost a lot of credibility among British leftists following the formation of the Conservative–Liberal coalition, especially considering one of his campaign's "marketing tools" was encouraging people to vote Liberal to keep the Tories out. This was mainly because, although British politics had gotten to the point where while, on some issues (notably civil liberties) Labour had moved to the right of the Tories and so they were not necessarily closer in principle to the Lib Dems, many Lib Dem seats had Tories as the principal opposition, especially in rural parts of The West Country, where Labour's support was and still is practically non-existent. And with Gordon Brown deemed impossible to support as Prime Minister, the Labour Party had no clear leader or strategy for negotiations, as their negotiating team later admitted. Clegg had also stressed before election day that the Lib Dems would be obligated to 'talk first' with whichever party had won the most seats as they had the most right to form a government; many grassroots Lib Dems were angry this led to the talks being followed through with a deal. The general perception, fair or not, that the Lib Dems were acting largely as lapdogs for the Conservatives while in government did not particularly help this impression, and the Conservatives appeared to have successfully transferred the fallout for some of their less-popular policies onto
Old Nick and the Lib Dems since taking office. Correspondingly, Clegg's popularity and that of his party sank to new lows. The most damaging was the Lib Dems allowing a rise in tuition fees, which broke a key manifesto commitment and alienated their young activist base; the fallout was so bad that Clegg had to release a public apology for violating his pledge, which was quickly turned into a Stupid Statement Dance Mix which went viral and attracted many more views than his official apology video.
On 7 May 2015, the Liberal Democrats fell to shocking lows, winning just under 8 per cent of the vote, down more than fifteen points from five years earlier, and only eight seats in the House of Commons, down 49 from five years earlier when they ended up with the most power they've had in their modern history (starting from 1988, when the Liberal and Social Democratic Parties merged). Defying the polls, the Conservatives won an overall majority (albeit a very small one), so the coalition came to an end. On 8 May, Clegg simultaneously resigned as party leader, Deputy Prime Minister, and Lord President of the Council. The Lib Dems elected Tim Farron as their new leader.
After the UK voted to leave The European Union in the referendum of June 2016, Clegg, a staunch Europhile, was appointed the party's spokesman for international trade and exiting the EU, but this comeback (if such it can be called) was curtailed by the surprise general election of 2017, in which he lost his seat to Labour's Jared O'Mara.note For some time he continued to advocate for a reversal of the referendum result, usually (in accordance with official Lib Dem policy) by means of a second referendum on the terms of the withdrawal deal, with "remain in the European Union" one of the options on the ballot paper. He even implied that a Britain which remained after all could get a "new deal" which better suited British interests, despite nobody on the Continent suggesting this — quite the contrary, in fact. He largely retreated from front-line politics in early 2018, however, when he accepted a position as a senior executive at Facebook, a role for which the jokes really write themselves at this point. Apart from a single tweet congratulating the Lib Dems on their best-ever performance at the 2019 European Parliamentary elections (a victory which was rendered meaningless by Prime Minister Boris Johnson officially taking the UK out of the EU less than a year later), he has made no further public comment on British politics to date.
In 2022, Clegg was promoted to President of Global Affairs for the newly renamed Meta Platforms, presumably as a reward for taking the fall on Facebook's behalf after the Facebook Files leak in late 2021. This means that throughout the course of his career he has served as the Number Two twice: first for the British Prime Minister and then for the CEO of Facebook/Meta.
Clegg was a member of the European Parliament for the East Midlands from 1999 to 2004 and served as the MP for Sheffield Hallam from 2005 to 2017 when he transitioned to national politics. He is not to be confused with the other Mr. N. Clegg from Yorkshire (yes, jokes have been made).
Fictional Depictions of Nick Clegg:
- Ruthlessly mocked on the satirical programme Russell Howard's Good News. The fact that the show's second series coincided with the live debates helped. After Clegg's popularity soared as a result of the debates, Howard was good enough to eat humble pie on air. Although after the issue of tuition fees (telling young people to get more involved in politics then rescinding on the promise to oppose increased tuition fees once in power), Russell Howard portrayed his soul as peaceful woodlands before, and burning wastelands after.
"They call me Nick Clegg! Nick Clegg! I got a third leg! Third leg!"
- Private Eye portrayed various people as viewing Clegg as a Messiah-like figure after his success in the debates. After the formation of the coalition with Cameron, Clegg is presented as the Deputy Head of the New Coalition Academy, the Eye's school-themed politics parody.
- In the last series of The Thick of It, coalition partners (Lib Dems) are endlessly mercilessly mocked and belittled by the majority party members (Tories).